Predicting mortality for paediatric inpatients where malaria is uncommon

Dana C Clifton, Habib O Ramadhani, Levina J Msuya, Boniface N Njau, Grace D Kinabo, Ann M Buchanan, John A Crump
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Objective: As the proportion of children living low malaria transmission areas in sub-Saharan Africa increases, approaches for identifying non-malarial severe illness need to be evaluated to improve child outcomes.

Design: As a prospective cohort study, we identified febrile paediatric inpatients, recorded data using Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) criteria, and collected diagnostic specimens. Setting Tertiary referral centre, northern Tanzania.

Results: Of 466 participants with known outcome, median age was 1.4 years (range 2 months–13.0 years), 200 (42.9%) were female, 11 (2.4%) had malaria and 34 (7.3%) died. Inpatient death was associated with: Capillary refill >3 s (OR 9.0, 95% CI 3.0 to 26.7), inability to breastfeed or drink (OR 8.9, 95% CI 4.0 to 19.6), stiff neck (OR 7.0, 95% CI 2.8 to 17.6), lethargy (OR 5.2, 95% CI 2.5 to 10.6), skin pinch >2 s (OR 4.8, 95% CI 1.9 to 12.3), respiratory difficulty (OR 4.0, 95% CI 1.9 to 8.2), generalised lymphadenopathy (OR 3.6, 95% CI 1.6 to 8.3) and oral candidiasis (OR 3.4, 95% CI 1.4 to 8.3). BCS <5 (OR 27.2, p<0.001) and severe wasting (OR 6.9, p<0.001) were independently associated with inpatient death.

Conclusions: In a low malaria transmission setting, IMCI criteria performed well for predicting inpatient death from non-malarial illness. Laboratory results were not as useful in predicting death, underscoring the importance of clinical examination in assessing prognosis. Healthcare workers should consider local malaria epidemiology as malaria over-diagnosis in children may delay potentially life-saving interventions in areas where malaria is uncommon.